Applying for a US I (Member of the Foreign Media) Visa – Does Your Content Qualify?
The US I Visa, or ‘media visa’ as it’s often referred to, is intended for foreign individuals to enter and work in the US on pre-approved media/journalism assignments.
One of the more common sticking points when making an application for the I visa is the purpose of the visit. The nature of the media content that is to be produced as a result of the time spent in the US must meet specific visa criteria.
The regulations do not define the parameters in great detail and the guidance issued by the Government is subject to interpretation.
As the media landscape changes rapidly due to the rise of online publications, the desire for instant access to news, and the blurred line between what is real and what is fake news, the process for granting permission for foreign journalists to produce and cover US news stories is uncharted territory.
This presents both opportunity and challenges for media visa applicants.
Back to basics – What is the I visa?
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, foreign media representatives are required to enter the US with an I visa.
When we talk about ‘media representatives’, we mean any individual working as part of a specific media ‘project’ or commission; journalists, editors, production crew members, researchers, and across media types – print, broadcast, independent film production, etc.
The individual must be coming to the US solely to work on behalf of a:
- foreign media outlet or
- US-based subsidiary of the foreign media company, if the foreign company wholly owns the US subsidiary.
This would include both staff of foreign media companies and freelance representatives who are under contract with a foreign organization to produce news.
One exception to this rule relates to foreign media representatives covering the United Nations. These individuals are generally classified as ‘aliens in transit’ and do not require a visa to attend UN meetings.
I visa content criteria
The I visa application process requires a clearly articulated description of the nature of the content that will be produced as a result of the time in the US.
Consider, would the content fall into one of the following:
Content that is newsworthy, informative and/or educational would pass the I visa test.
Numbers 4 & 5 however – entertainment and advertising – would not come under the I visa. To be I visa eligible, the content cannot be of entertainment or promotional value alone.
In practice, this means content such as reality TV and scripted or staged productions won’t usually be eligible.
However, as we’ve mentioned already, with new media formats continually developing it is important to look closely at the nature of the production to see if there is scope to argue that the content does indeed satisfy the requirements.
So while your assignment may not be ‘hard news’, if you can establish the audience will be educated or informed to a degree, you may be able to make the case for the I visa.
For example – we recently represented a British celebrity chef looking to travel to the US to film a series of regional cooking shows.
At first glance, this project may have seemed purely entertainment in purpose for which an I visa would not have been appropriate.
But working with the client and his production team, we drew out the educational value of the show beyond the entertainment format – demonstrating that the program involved informing and educating the UK audience on regional American culture.
On this basis we made a robust representation, and the I visa applications for the presenter, producers and directors were approved.
Had there been issues with the application, this would have seriously stalled the project.
So it’s important to factor in immigration and visa issues and US travel requirements early in a project to avoid delays and added costs.
From experience, we know that the I visa may not always be the most obvious US entry option.
There may be instances where an individual is coming to the US to disseminate or communicate technical and factual information in a professional capacity.
For example, business employees sharing technical industrial information, or official foreign tourism representatives delivering factual information about their home country. Such cases may, wider criteria permitting, come under the I visa. It is important to work with someone who has knowledge of the fine nuances of this visa category.
NNU Immigration can advise on all aspects of the I visa
Without a definitive or exhaustive list to draw from, it becomes a matter of making a clear and detailed representation in your application to the Consulate as to the intended media output from your time in the US.
The I visa can be granted for up to five years , and can subsequently be renewed indefinitely, However, you are likely to be questioned about the nature of your activities each time you enter the United States so it’s critical to ensure your work product continues to comply with the visa parameters.
Seeking professional and experienced legal advice can help to ascertain whether your content does qualify, and to present your case most effectively.
Depending on the circumstances, there may be a requirement to pursue alternative entry options. Again, take advice to ensure you are able to meet your professional need to enter the US while being compliant with US law.
We work with all types of news organizations, media companies and media professionals advising on their US immigration options, including the I visa.
With substantial expertise in this area, we are able to advise whether the I visa is the most appropriate option for your circumstances, and whether alternative options are more suitable.
If you have a question about an I visa application, contact NNU Immigration and speak with one of our attorneys.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.